(A pen portrait of the noted designer, way back in 2004, when he was at the start of his stellar journey)
THE BRIDAL colours of red and gold flash fire on the ramp. They fuse the ethnic and the contemporary brilliantly in Kolkata-based Sabyasachi Mukherjee's fashion line at the launch of the Tanishq Aarka collection of 22-karat gold jewellery at the Taj West End in Bangalore.
How does Sabyasachi, the rising star of the Lakme India Fashion Week, interpret Aarka, which is inspired by the sun? Through a dazzling red sari with golden thread work, worn over a sheer, long-sleeved, turtleneck blouse with an edgy touch — a sophisticated brocade over-bra. Or a fitted zardozi blouse that hugs a dusky model as her lehenga glides down the catwalk, trailing a glittering dupatta, the total effect enhancing a delicate navel ornament. Each model sports an outsize red bindi, in keeping with the sun-bright mood.
In Bangalore for the show, the designer, a graduate of Kolkata's National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) and winner of the British Council-Femina Young Designer of the Year 2000, explains his role in the Aarka launch: "My brand and Tanishq have always celebrated Indian sensibilities and have looked at contemporising our heritage... co-branding with Aarka was a very natural process... "
But how can this jewellery line that sells at Rs. 22,000 upwards, so reminiscent of Ajji's treasure trove, brilliant with rubies, coral and amethyst, chime in with today's lifestyles? Sabyasachi, 28, replies: "We chose a dusky South African model to launch this range, the global face of timeless jewellery. Why shouldn't even antique pieces be teamed with today's clothes, not just Didima's saris?"
True. When we check out the beauty's swan-like neck, enhanced by her upswept kinky hair and alluring chocolate profile, the traditional Indian necklace of twisted gold, embellished by a delicate filigree pendant that sparkles with fiery rubies, seems perfect. It crosses cultures and continents with ease. As do the ornamental earrings that swing from her lobes, perfectly in sync with the non-Indian.
Was the break in London in 2000 a turning point? "No doubt about that," Sabyasachi smiles. "I come from a middle-class Bengali family. That trip, like a Madhusudan Dutt poem, taught me to be proud of being Indian. If the West looks down on us, despite our fantastic heritage, we have only ourselves to blame. We need to look at who we are, where we're rooted."
Sabyasachi, one of two Indian designers invited to the next Milan Fashion Week, speaks his mind with a clarity that belies his years. He knows that his collections for the Indian and western markets have to be distinct, "because otherwise, the west would look at my clothes as just costumes. With fusion, we have to ensure it's subtle, not in-your-face." He adds: "Why is it that the Indian fashion scene was all excited only when Jean-Paul Gautier used brocade for pants? We're first discovered by the west, then we discover ourselves..."
He's savvy enough to woo even the MTV generation with khadi saris and fusion wear that speak in their tongue, buoyed by his interface with exquisite kalamkari pieces at London's Victoria and Albert Museum. He realizes that fashion success depends on hard work, not partying hard. And he's consciously decided to ease himself out of the rat race, with the support of his family and friends.
"I hate to look at videos of my earlier work," confesses the grand winner of Singapore's Mercedes New Asia Fashion Week, "because I keep seeing flaws. I think that keeps me in constant evolution. I'd like my label to have wearable Indian clothes, but with a quirky touch." Perhaps like his tea-stained, damask Nehru jacket with a burnt hem that was recently shown in Bangalore at the British Council's touring Global Local show at the Chitrakala Parishath.
When the Aarka show was over, we realised that all that glitters is not always gold. Because Sabyasachi's creative blend of today and tomorrow proved the talk of the town. It was, beyond doubt, the stellar element of the evening.
(The Hindu Metroplus, 2004)